Thursday, 18 July 2013

Celebrating our Transport Heritage

Everyone loves a steam engine. Whenever one is scheduled to pass through Stourbridge Junction, you can guarantee some smiling faces. 
Maybe it's something to do with our heritage - when Britain was a World leader in so many aspects - or maybe it's a real-time reminder of simpler days gone, although I guess many of the people who worked the steam engines were pleased to see the cleaner, simpler to operate diesels appear on the scene! 
I'm no expert on steam engines, but I love to see them. My favourite type of steam engine is Gresley's A4. It's dramatic curved lines make it a beauty to observe, and I can imagine it was quite startling to see one for the first time back in 1935 when the first one made it's debut on the tracks! 

A4 no. 4464 "Bittern"

It was on 3 July 1938 that Mallard hit 126mph on Stoke Bank to claim the World Speed Record for a steam locomotive - a record that remains intact today. That must have been an incredible event! 
So hats off to the National Railway Museum in York for pulling together the remaining 6 preserved A4 locos for "The Great Gathering" to celebrate 75 years since the record attempt. 2 of the remaining 6 (out of a total of 35 built) surviving locos have been brought over from the US and Canada, where they are static museum exhibits. 
The event has proved extremely popular. When I was there, photography was nigh-on hopeless due to the sheer amount of people there, but nonetheless it was great to be amongst such a great line up of our transport heritage. I'm a particular fan of the 1930s era generally, and I never cease to be amazed at the stunning designs of the era, of which the A4s fit in perfectly! Quite incredible to think that the confident, roaring 30s would abruptly come to an end with the advent of war, which of course changed everything. 
Elsewhere in the Museum, there are many examples of the glamour of rail travel, from the silver service displayed on dining trains of days gone to the Royal carriages, where no expense was spared - even as war was raging the Royal Family toured the length and breadth of the country in their special trains, which were also parked in tunnels overnight to provide extra security. 
This I pondered on my journey home via CrossCountry Trains. I'd treated myself to First Class, and whilst indeed it was a bit more luxurious than standard (and had the all-important leg room that I need!) it wasn't in the Royal carriage league! (The free wi-fi worked though, so we have made progress of sorts since the romantic days of 1930s train travel!)
It's always nice to reflect on our transport heritage, if only to compare with today's service and learn lessons from our predecessors, although of course today's operations are often far-removed from those of the past. 

"The Great Gathering" has now ended at the National Railway Museum, but there are further chances to see all 6 A4s together again before 2 of them return overseas next year. Visit for details. 

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